What is the Divine Liturgy?

The totality of the wondrous events performed by God, in order to bring man after his disobedience back to His house and make him His own once more, is called divine economy or dispensation: ‘The divine economy of our God and Savior is the raising up of man from his fallen state and his return from the alienation produced by his disobedience to intimacy with God’ (St Basil).

This reality of our salvation in Christ is what we experience at every Divine Liturgy, for which we give thanks to God: ‘The awesome Mysteries which are performed at every assembly of the faithful and which offer salvation in abundance are called the Eucharist [‘thanksgiving’] because they consist of the recollection of many  benefactions, and reveal to us the culmination of divine providence’ (St John Chrysostom). The Divine Liturgy is the sacramental re-living of these things and the ‘recapitulation of the entire divine economy’. That is why at the end of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the celebrant says: “The Mystery of Your dispensation, O Christ our God, has been accomplished and perfected.’

The mystery of the divine economy was made manifest at the same time as man’s disobedience. The Master who loves mankind ‘at once saw the fall and the magnitude of the wound, and hastened to treat the wound so that it would not grow and turn into an incurable injury…spurred on by His love, not for one moment did He cease to provide for man’ (Chrysostom). Through wonderful deeds and prophetic words, God prepared man to partake in the fullness of life and love.

(Hieromonk Gregorios, The Divine Liturgy, p. 15)

Finding Christ in the Mystery

Attend

Notice! Jesus stands just before you,

waiting in the tabernacle shaped

for you–shaped precisely for you!

He burns with great desire

to enter into your heart.

 

Ignore the yammering demon

telling you “not so!” Laugh in his pinched face

and turn without fear to receive

the Jesus of quiet calm and utmost love.

Partake of His Mysteries often,

often as you can, for in Them you find

your sole, entire remedy, assuming–

of course–you would be cured. Jesus has not

impressed this hunger in your heart for nothing.

This gentle Guest of our souls

knows our every ache and misery.

He enters, desiring to find a tent, a bower

prepared for His arrival within us,

and that is all, all He asks of us.

(Scott Cairns, Love’s Immensity, pp. 138-139)

Holy Thursday (2018)

On Holy Thursday we contemplate the institution of the Mystical Supper – we realize that Christ gave His Body and Blood for the life of the world so that we can partake of salvation! The institution of the Eucharist by our Lord is something we not only think about, but actually receive when we come to the Liturgy this evening.

O how manifold and ineffable this communion! Christ became our brother, partaking of the same flesh and blood with us, and through them became like us. Through his blood He has redeemed us for Himself as true servants. He has made us His friends (cf. John 15:14-15) partaking of this blood He has bound and betrothed us to Himself as a bridegroom his bride, and become one flesh with us. He feeds us not only with blood instead of milk, but with His own body, and not only His body but also His Spirit. In so doing, He always preserves undiminished the nobility given to us by Him, leads us towards greater longing, and grants us to fulfill our desire, not only to see Him but also to touch Him, to delight in Him, to take Him into our hearts, and for each of us to hold Him in our inmost selves.

Come, He says, those of you who have set your heart on eternal life, eat My body and drink My blood (cf. John 6:53), that you may not only be in God’s image, but, by clothing yourselves in Me, the King and God of heaven, you may be eternal and heavenly gods and kings, feared by demons, admired by angels, beloved sons of the celestial Father, living forever fairer than the children of men (cf. Ps. 45:2), a delightful dwelling place for the sublime Trinity. (St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, pp. 464-465)

The Eucharist and Christmas

“In his worldly obedience he emptied himself, and his emptying is the only example for our path.  God who became a child, God who fled into Egypt to escape Herod,

God who sought friends and disciples in this world, God who wept from the depths of his spirit over Lazarus, who denounced the pharisees, who spoke of the fate of Jerusalem, who drove out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead, who finally, and most importantly gave his flesh and blood as food for the world, lifted up his body on the cross between the two thieves – when and at what moment did his example teach us about inner walls that separate us from the world?  He was in the world with all his Godmanhood, not with some secondary properties.  He did not keep himself, he gave himself without stint.  ‘This is my body, which is broken for you‘ – shed to the end.  

In the sacrament of the eucharist, Christ gave himself, his God-man’s body, to the world, or rather, he united the world with himself in the communion with his God-man’s body.  He made it into Godmanhood.”  (St. Maria of Parish, Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings, p. 78)

 

Thanksgiving and Ascetical Thinking

Every week in Orthodox churches in which the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, we give thanks to God.  Eucharist – the word we use to refer to Communion – is the Greek work for thanksgiving.  Every Liturgy is thus a thanksgiving service.  That is the primary purpose of the Liturgy – it is how we Christians give thanks to God.  We assemble together exactly for the purpose of celebrating our thanksgiving, every week, not just once each year.  For us Orthodox thanksgiving is really a way of life, not a holiday we do one day in November.  Our country’s thanksgiving holiday is just another chance for us to give thanks to God.

A eucharistic ethos means, above all, using natural resources with thankfulness, offering them back to God. Such an attitude is incompatible with wastefulness. Similarly, fasting and other ascetic practices make us recognize even the simplest of foods and other creature comforts as gifts, provided to satisfy our needs. They are not ours to abuse and waste just so long as we can pay for them.

We worship as a community, not as individuals; so a liturgical ethos is also one of sharing. Long before the earth was seen as a whole from space, the Church knew that we stand before God together, and that we hold in common the earthly blessings that He has given to mankind and all creatures. “Not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs,” Saint John Chrysostom reminds us.

This principle, applied to the whole range of natural resources, is particularly relevant because the global environment is squeezed on two sides: by the over-consumption, greed and waste of the affluent, and by the pressing needs of the poor, often forced to deplete the land around them for the sake of food or fuel in short term. (Dr. Elizabeth Theokritoff, “‘Thine Own of Thine Own’ Orthodoxy and Ecology,” Orthodoxy and Ecology Resource Book, p. 15)

Why Bother to Thank God?

“Let us now ask ourselves why God seeks men’s thanks. Why did He seek of Noah, Moses, Abraham and other of our forefathers that they offer Him sacrifices of thanksgiving (Genesis 8:20-21; 12:7-8; 35:1; Leviticus Ch. 3)?

Why did the Lord Jesus every day give an example to the world of how we must give thanks to God (Matthew 11:25; 14:19; 26:26-7)? Why did the apostles do the same (Acts 2:47; 27:35), commanding all the faithful to give thanks to God in and for all things (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17)?  Do we find great Isaiah’s words incomprehensible: “I will mention the lovingkindness of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness” (Isaiah 63:7)? Or what the gentle Psalmist advises his own soul: “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 102/103:2)? Why, then, does God seek men’s thanks? It is out of His endless love for mankind that God seeks that men give Him thanks. The thanks of men will not make God greater, more powerful, more glorious, richer or more alive, but they will make men all of those things.

Man’s gratitude will not add anything to God’s peace and contentment, but it will add greatly to man’s. Thanksgiving to God will in no way change God’s state and being, but it will change these in a grateful man. God has no need of our gratitude, nor are our prayers necessary to Him. But is this same Lord who said: “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matthew 6:8) who at the same time recommended that men ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1). God may not feel the need of our prayers, but He nevertheless demands it of us – the thanksgiving that is nothing other than a form of prayer – a prayer of thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving to God raises us mortals out of the corruption of mortality, releases us from that from which we must all at some time be released, whether we will or not, and binds us to God the living and immortal; if we are not bound to Him in this life, then we shall never be in His presence in eternity. Thanksgiving ennobles the thankful and nourishes good works. Thanksgiving inspires benevolence in the world and gives freshness to every virtue.” (St Nikolai Velimirovic, Homilies, p. 300)

Eating the Body of Christ

St. Nicholas Cabasilas was a great liturgical theologian and sacramental thinker of the 14th Century.  He explains to us the difference between daily bread and the Bread of Life.

“Man lives because of food, but not in the same way in this sacred rite. Since natural food is not itself living it does not of itself infuse life into us…But the Bread of Life is himself living, and through him those to whom he imparts himself truly live.

While natural food is changed into him who feeds on it… here it is entirely opposite. The Bread of Life himself changes him who feeds on him and transforms and assimilates him into himself.” (Jean-Claude Larchet, Theology of the Body, p. 54).

Jesus taught: “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”  (John 6:48-58)

A Prayer of St. John Chrysostom

O Lord, my God, I know that I am not worthy that You should enter into my soul’s habitation because it is desolate and in ruins. You will find no fitting place therein to lay Your head. But as from on high You humbled Yourself and came to us, so now submit to the measure of my lowliness. As You consented to lie in a manger, consent now to come into the manger of my soul and body. As You did not scorn to enter and to dine with sinners in the house of Simon the leper, scorn not to enter into the house of my humble soul, although I, too, am a sinner and leper.

As You did not cast out the sinful woman, a harlot, when she approached to touch You, so have also compassion on me, a sinner, as I approach to touch You. Lord and Master, let the burning fire of Your holy Body and precious Blood be unto me for cleansing, enlightenment and strengthening of my soul and body; for relief of the burden of my many transgressions, protection from all diabolical influence, restraint of my sinful habits and the putting to death.

(My Orthodox Prayer Book, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Kindle Location 1086-1094)

 

The Sweetness of the Sun and the Eucharist

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“The soul climbs up unceasingly.  And the further up it goes, the higher it longs to go.  The ascent kindles its desire, and the food of the Divine Eucharist increases its hunger for mystical contemplation.  St Symeon the New Theologian, who looked upon the beauty of the uncreated light and was nourished on the food of incorruption, uses a unique image:

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‘I do not know which give me greater delight, the sight and enjoyment of the purity of the rays of the Sun, or the drinking and the taste of the wine in my mouth.

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I want to say the latter [the taste of the wine], and yet the former [the rays of the sun] attracts me and seems sweeter.  And when I turn to them, then I enjoy still more the sweetness of the taste of the wine.  So the sight [of the rays] does not lead to satiety, nor can I have enough of drinking [that wine].

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For when it seems that I have drunk my fill, then the beauty of the rays sent forth makes me thirst greatly, and again I find myself hungry and thirsty.'”  (Hiermonk Gregorios, THE DIVINE LITURGY, pp 221-222)

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Being of One Mind: Satisfaction Guaranteed

Sermon Notes from Sunday, 30 July 2017

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? ….

St. Paul frequently in his Epistles calls the Christians to  prevent divisions within the community and to be of one heart and mind, something we pray for at the Liturgy [“Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess.”  AND  “And grant that with one mouth and one heart we may glorify and praise Your all-honorable and majestic Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.”]

When we install a new Parish Council, they take an oath of office that among other things says they promise to work to preserve the unity of the community.  Unity is not given to us automatically by God at our baptisms.  We have to work for , and the leadership of the parish is especially entrusted with this task.

We know it is hard to have a community of people agree on everything, and Christian history shows us how often Christians have failed to maintain the unity of the faith – not only on the local level but sometimes at the level of the entire Church.  Divisions have plagued us Christians, and it is incumbent on each of us to work hard to preserve unity within the Church.  I say this, not because we have any pressing division we are facing, but we all know there are countless issues that we disagree on, some very minor, but still it is a task, and no easy one to maintain unity.

Jesus prayed:  “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will* believe in Me through their word;“that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.“And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:“I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.  (John 17:20-23)

Paul’s wish that we be of one mind, without disunity, is telling us to fulfill Christ’s prayer for us.

In an unusual way, the oneness of heart and mind has a segue with today’s Gospel lesson.

Gospel: Matthew 14:14-22
And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were satisfied, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.

In the rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, Judas sings about Jesus:

Every time I look at you I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned.
Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation.
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.

One can wonder why Jesus came when He did, 2000 years ago.  We think we would like to walk with Him and hear him today, thinking then we would know for sure if He was true or not, unlike those Palestinian backwater rubes who were easily taken in by “miracles.”

But if Jesus came today and wanted to assemble 5000 men besides women and children, it would be no easy task to arrange.  There would be permits which would be needed, and sanitation and security.  There would have to be plans for emergencies, first aid stations, water bottles, bathrooms, and the authorities wouldn’t allow that many people to assemble with no food in sight.  What kind of parking area would be needed for the cars for all those people?

And then when Jesus promised to feed everyone, and all He gave was bread, there would be mass complaining.  Some would say they are on special diets – high protein, low carb, glutton free, there would be complaints about allergies.  Some would want something with the bread, not bread alone.  Butter and jelly, or perhaps meat and cheese for sandwiches.  And condiments.  Humans can’t live on bread alone!  That is not a balanced diet.  There would be a lot of unhappy people who would not be happy that all they were given is some bread.

Maybe the biggest miracle that Jesus did comes in the line, “So they all ate and were satisfied“.  Amazing, He satisfied 5000 men plus women and children.  Everyone was satisfied, and all they got was bread. [though the Gospel passage mentions the disciples also had fish, it only mentions Christ blessing and distributing the loaves, the fish aren’t mentioned as being distributed].

We can imagine what would happen if at our Fellowship Hour, all we had to offer was bread!  People would demand at least donuts!  And coffee!

But in the Gospel lesson, they are satisfied with bread.  Maybe that is why Christ came 2000 years ago.  He looked into the future, into the 21st Century and realized no one today would consider being offered only bread – after being with Christ all day out in the open, exposed to the weather –  as that wonderful.  Perhaps He looked into our century and realized all He would get is complaints.

Back then, they stayed with Christ all day and witnessed healing miracles, and then Jesus fed them bread.  What happened next?  He told them goodbye – go home!  If they thought that something powerful was going to happen to the world right then and there – the Kingdom of Heaven or the New Jerusalem – Jesus disabused them of those ideas.  He dismissed them.  He didn’t encourage them to stay, didn’t offer an encore.  He didn’t encourage that some kind of shrine be built there.  He moved on.

He wanted them to look beyond the bread they received, to think about the Kingdom, not about making Him king.  The miracle was to be a sign of that greater reality, God’s Kingdom.   Jesus left that spot because the Kingdom wasn’t there and He wanted everyone to look not for some benefit in this world but to look beyond this world.

In our church we have many icons of saints, but if we read there lives we will see precious few of them looked to Jesus for the bread of this world.  They all were looking for something else, something more.  The Myrrhbearing Women go to the tomb, not looking for bread in this world, but looking for Christ.  It is Christ whom the saints were seeking, and it Christ whom they realized they needed.

If we listen to the Gospel of the miraculous multiplication of the loaves, and all we get out of it is that we wish we could see a miracle, or we wish we could get some free bread, then we miss the entire lesson of the Gospel, for we miss seeing Christ.  None of those who ate that bread that day were so satisfied that they never hungered again.  That bread fed them for a day, not for a lifetime, not for eternity.

Christ, however, does offer us bread that feeds us for eternity – His own Body and Blood which we receive in the consecrated Eucharistic Bread and Wine. We need to seek Christ like the saints, not mere bread like the crowd. In this, we need to be of one heart and mind.